Furthermore, with one in four office workers admitting to not washing their hands after visiting the washroom, facilities are vulnerable to the harbouring and spreading of infection.
It is therefore vital that businesses and staff are aware of how common illnesses are transmitted in an office environment and the steps they can take to reduce the spread of germs. Simple changes to personal hygiene habits and office layout can improve employees’ chances of staying healthy and bug-free, which is particularly important in colder months when viruses spread more easily because we spend more time indoors.
In this article I advise businesses and employees about how they can ensure a healthy working environment is adopted for all staff.
Advice for businesses
(1) Promote good hand hygiene standards
Staff should be washing their hands regularly with good quality soap, and hand sanitiser stations should always be available. The golden rule is: wash, dry, sanitise. The most effective kind of sanitisers are non-alcohol based like Initial’s UltraProtect, which forms a gentle but long-lasting barrier on hands, protecting against germs for a few hours after use.
(2) Improve reception/entrance area
Door handles and common touch-points are a risk hotspot in reception and entrance areas, harbouring bacteria and viruses which can be transferred from surface to hand and from hand to hand. Bacteria and viruses can cause food poisoning, respiratory diseases and skin infections, so introduce hand and surface sanitisers to kill germs and help prevent the spread of infection.
(3) Regular cleaning regimes
Ensure regular, thorough cleaning takes place in communal areas like shared kitchens and washroom facilities as well as the corridors and room door handles. For example, food preparation surfaces in kitchens can be home to pathogenic strains of E.Coli and the Norovirus. These can be transmitted from surface to hand, hand to mouth or by infected food and can cause gastroenteritis and urinary tract infections. Good hand washing and drying products can help to minimise the risk of infection.
For those companies that have open plan working environments, with only basic cleaning practises in place, undertake a professional deep clean at least twice a year to prevent the build-up of embedded dirt and contamination.
(4) Clean desks
Encourage staff to clean their desk areas regularly by providing anti-bacterial wipes and make sure that desk items such as keyboards and phones are routinely cleaned. A previous study by Initial Washroom Hygiene found that the average computer mouse was home to more than three times the levels of bacteria-related contamination than the average toilet seat, and twice as many as on a toilet flush handle.
(5) Introduce scenting products
High footfall makes corridors and common areas germ hotspots. Scenting products will help control and minimise aromas that might come from malodour-producing bacteria. Air disinfection units will also help reduce airborne microorganisms.
(6) Reduce virus spread
Ensure staff who contract a virus stay away from the office for at least 48 hours after the symptoms have disappeared to avoid wider workforce contamination.
Implementing these six top tips will help to create a healthier working environment; however, it’s also important that employees themselves are educated on the best hygiene practises. They play an important role on the front line, helping to stop the spread of infection.
Advice for staff
(1) Practice good hygiene
Thorough hand washing after using the washroom and before preparing food is extremely important. It is recommended that you should wash your hands for the same amount of time it takes to sing the happy birthday song twice (approximately 30 seconds). Make sure that you dry your hands properly after visiting the washroom, as damp hands spread 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands. Take responsibility to make sure that your desk area and associated equipment is regularly cleaned – this will reduce the level of germs in the office.
(2) Stop sharing
Try not to share items such as tea towels when using communal areas. These items can be home to high levels of bacteria and are often not cleaned regularly. Good alternatives include using tissue paper or hand towels from proper wall-mounted dispensers.
(3) Stay home when ill
If you suspect you have Norovirus or a similar stomach bug, notify your employer and do not return until 48 hours after the last symptoms have disappeared. Remember that it is partly because we spend more time indoors in the winter, with the heating on and windows closed that viral illnesses spread more easily.
It is essential to encourage both staff and workplace visitors to take personal responsibility by following correct hygienic practices. In addition, offices need to make sure that they make use of specialist cleaners and the latest cleaning technologies. By following these basic precautions, facilities and office managers can ensure a hygienic environment, and look forward to happier, more productive employees.
Peter Barratt is technical manager at Initial Washroom Hygiene.
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